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Kevin Stitt executive orders
Gov. Kevin Stitt speaks during his inaugural address Monday, Jan. 14, 2019, on the steps of the Oklahoma State Capitol. (Michael Duncan)
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After 10 days on the job, Gov. Kevin Stitt has issued his first executive orders, which will sell the governor’s airplane, end a certain state hiring freeze, force transparency about state agencies hiring lobbyists and restructure his cabinet.

The changes to the governor’s cabinet — a set of designated secretaries who oversee sections of state government — involve four areas.

From a press release:

The Secretary of Finance is now divided into three positions focused on agency accountability, transparency and modernization. The responsibilities of this role will now be spread across the following titles: Secretary of Agency Accountability, Secretary of Budget and Secretary of Digital Transformation and Administration.

The Secretary of Health and Human Services is now divided into two positions. The Stitt administration will have a Secretary of Health and Mental Health and a Secretary of Human Services and Early Childhood Initiatives.

The Secretary of Education will be rolled into the Secretary of State’s title so that this cabinet position can focus on the holistics picture of education while pursuing a collaborative relationship with the elected State Superintendent.

The Secretary of Tourism and Commerce position is now divided into two secretaries, with Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell serving on the cabinet as Secretary of Tourism and Branding and with a second cabinet position created that couples workforce development with job recruitment under the Secretary of Commerce and Workforce Development.

Secretary of State Michael Rogers heavily focused on education issues during his time in the Oklahoma House of Representatives.

State airplane to be sold

Stitt held a press conference this morning to announce the executive orders. His executive order directing the sale of the private plane serving the governor’s office means he will need to find other ways to travel across and outside of the state.

“I can fly commercial or there’s a Business Roundtable where businesses can donate hours of flight time to the governor if we need to go somewhere quickly to go meet a prospect or meet a potential business that is looking to relocate to Oklahoma,” said Stitt, who revealed that he is a pilot. “If you’re not flying 400 hours a year, it just doesn’t make sense to own your own airplane. You can be better off just leasing.”

The sale of the governor’s plane comes after decades of political drama surrounding the subject.

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Stitt seeks flexibility for agency positions

Stitt’s executive order to end the state agency hiring freeze for unclassified employees still retains the freeze on classified employees. The designations can be confusing, but classified employees participate in a merit system that offers less flexibility.

Stitt said at his Thursday press conference announcing his executive orders that he wants to reshape and improve government but believes positions should be shifted into unclassified positions for greater flexibility.

“There are some classified positions that are no longer needed. You can’t move them around,” he said.

State agency lobbyist transparency

Among Stitt’s four executive orders announced Thursday, the one placing a freeze on state agency hiring of contract lobbyists could have the broadest implications across state government.

“I was shocked to find — and Oklahomans I’m sure will be shocked to find — I couldn’t find out the information about how many state agencies are contracting out with lobbyists,” Stitt said.

He said he has requested summaries of all lobbyist contracts with state agencies dating back to 2015.

“It’s frightening,” he said. “I’ve got to first get the information so I can share that with the citizens of Oklahoma.”

Stitt was flanked by three House Republicans at his press conference, and Rep. Marcus McEntire (R-Duncan) said he thought the executive order about state agencies hiring lobbyists was worth looking into.

“I think it’s an important question to ask: ‘Are taxpayer dollars being used to fund lobbying efforts on behalf of agencies?’” McEntire said. “I think it’s a legitimate question.”

Stitt said his executive order on the topic will allow cabinet secretaries to review requests from agencies seeking to hire lobbyists.

Stitt focused on reform, accountability

Oklahoma has traditionally had a relatively weak executive office, its powers limited under a state Constitution crafted in 1906 and 1907 by a populous populace skeptical of centralized power.

Stitt, who turned 46 in late December, was elected Nov. 6 after running on a platform heavy with government-reform rhetoric.

In his inaugural address Jan. 14, Stitt said he wants to “break down silos” between Oklahoma’s various levels of education. He also spoke about reforming state agencies, boards and commissions to provide more accountability.

“We can only guarantee such accountability when state agencies understand that they exist to serve and to answer to the people of Oklahoma. We need to change how Oklahoma’s 400 agencies and commissions are comprised,” Stitt said. “Our current system gives agencies too much independence from the voter. They have the ability to ignore executive orders, skirt around laws passed by the Legislature, hide pockets of money and protect their own interests by hiring lobbyists. To my fellow Oklahomans, this must change if we are going to move the needle.”

(Update: This story was updated at 12:00 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 24, to add additional information about cabinet secretaries being able to review agency requests about lobbyist contracts.)

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